Local Bantam team heading to provincials

So here was the situation: win and you’re in, or lose and you’re still in.
Confused? Well, that’s what was facing the Fort Frances Taggs Bantam ‘AAA’ team (representing the Western zone) going into Sunday’s championship final of the branch playdowns here.
Taggs was going up against the Thunder Bay Sportop ‘AAA’ Kings, who already had a berth to the provincials later this month as the host team.
That meant a second berth for Northwestern Ontario was up for grabs, which Taggs already had by virtue of having beaten the Marathon Mercs Bantam ‘AAA’ team (representing the Eastern zone) the day before.
As such, Sunday’s final was more for pride—especially for Taggs, who had lost 6-0 to the Kings to open the branch playdowns Friday night.
It took the visitors just 15 seconds after the puck dropped Friday to get on the board. Emo resident Jordan Davis broke through the Taggs’ defence and scored unassisted.
“We were very nervous and it showed right off the bat,” said Taggs head coach Mark McCaig. “They stung us quick and that pretty much sealed the deal for them.”
The Kings added two more goals in the first period enroute to the 6-0 victory.
The Taggs team, made up of players from the local Bantam ‘AA’ squad as well as a few from Dryden and Kenora, came into the playdowns with only three practices under their belts.
The Kings, on the other hand, had played together as a team for almost 60 games this season.
“We’re starting to get to know each other,” said McCaig. “Some of these kids from Dryden or Kenora are shy, but if we’re going to be successful like the Kings, then everybody has got to bring their A-game.
“Everybody’s got to work hard and everybody’s got to dig down a little more,” he stressed. “It’s going to be done through sheer effort.”
In a game they had to win against the Mercs on Saturday evening, who had lost to the Kings 10-1 that morning, Taggs came out sluggish and found themselves down to a team that also had but a few practices together.
But the hosts bounced back with a two-goal second period to lead 2-1 heading into the third.
Taylor Jorgenson notched his team’s first goal of the playdowns on a lovely scoring play created through sheer teamwork along the boards with Kyle Turgeon.
Then Turgeon netted the second goal later in the period on a play created by Zack McCool, who was able to park himself in front of the Mercs’ goalie while his teammate pounced on a loose rebound.
Taggs went ahead 4-1 with a pair of unassisted power-play goals in the third by Josh Scott and Cody McCool. The Mercs got one back with 1:42 left to go, but it was too little, too late.
After opening with a loss, Taggs was just happy to be able to play again Sunday.
“We very much want to play them [the Kings] again on Sunday, and it’s just a matter of some of our guys having a little talk with themselves and bringing a little more to the table,” McCaig had said Friday night.
“We can’t have any passengers,” he stressed.
It took the Kings only 1:24 to get on the board Sunday, but Taggs quickly responded on an almost-identical looking play.
Streaking towards the net was Ryan Witherspoon, who was able to put the puck in front of the net and on the opposite side of Kings’ goalie Ryan Faragher, which then was collected by Z. McCool.
It was all Kings after that, however, adding two more goals in the first period, and then a single in each of the second and third periods, for the 5-1 win.
Despite the loss, McCaig was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We were a heck of a lot better today [Sunday] than we were on Friday,” he said. “And you know what? That score is not indicative of the play. If anybody thinks they walked on us today, they didn’t.
“Actually far from it.
“We played with them the whole way and I think that if you take a look at the Kings, that it’s a testament to the hockey program in Fort Frances because three of their best players are guys we developed,” he added, referring to Davis, Luke Judson, and Faragher.
“If they didn’t have those three guys, then it would’ve been a different story,” McCaig remarked.
So it’s off to Thunder Bay for Taggs for what promises to be a highly-competitive tournament.
In fact, Trevor Scott, whose son, Josh, plays for Taggs, said fans in attendance will want to “keep their programs, because you’re going to see at least five players that will someday be in the NHL.”
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a good experience for the boys and every one of us is looking forward to it,” said McCaig. “We’re going to work hard and see what we can do there, and see if we can sneak out a couple of victories.
“I just want them to go down there and not fear losing, but fearing they won’t play their best,” he concluded. “If they do their best, then we can look into the mirror and be happy.”